In a caustic letter dated Labor Day, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DI) filed an ethics complaint against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, imploring Chief Justice John Roberts to “enact a uniform process to hear this complaint and other complaints against him.” could arise. any justice in the future.”
Whitehouse’s complaint stemmed from an interview Alito gave to attorney David Rivkin and Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto for a July 28 op-ed published in the conservative newspaper.
Despite the title ‘Samuel Alito, the clear defender of the Supreme Court’, the play primarily defends Alito himself. It ignores the court’s recent “ethics scandals” (terrifying quotes from Rivkin and Taranto) and labels a scathing ProPublica investigation of Judge Clarence Thomas as just a “hit piece.”
Over the past year, coverage by ProPublica, The New York Times and other media outlets has drawn attention to how certain judges have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury vacations, college tuition and other gifts while in court. One such report describes a luxury fishing trip to Alaska that Alito and others took in 2008.
While Whitehouse addressed his letter to Roberts, he copied it to all nine judges on the bench.
The senator disagreed with a particular passage from the Wall Street Journal article in which Alito is quoted as saying, “Congress did not create the Supreme Court….No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to to regulate the Supreme Court – period. ”
This summer, in response to the growing public distrust of the Supreme Court, the Senate Judiciary Committee sought to impose a new set of ethical rules on Supreme Court justices. On July 20, an ethics bill was passed by the committee, although the chances of its full approval are high.
The Senate Finance Committee has also investigated financial ties between Supreme Court justices and various powerful corporate interests.
In his letter, Whitehouse argued that Alito’s comments to The Wall Street Journal “reflected legal arguments advanced to block requests for information from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Treasury Committee, both of which I serve on.”
“These arguments claim (falsely, in my opinion) that our constitutional separation of powers blocks any congressional action on this issue, which in turn claims (also falsely, in my opinion) to block any congressional inquiry. Right or wrong, it’s their argument against our research,” he wrote.
Whitehouse suggested that Alito unfairly benefited from the Wall Street Journal article, which does not advocate greater court transparency.
“The investigations of both committees have been hampered by individuals who have argued that Congress has no constitutional authority to legislate in this area, and therefore no authority to investigate. Judge Alito’s public comments support these theories,” Whitehouse wrote.
In addition to writing for The Wall Street Journal, Rivkin is an attorney for Leonard Leo, the former chief of the Federalist Society, whose ties to conservative billionaires and judges like Thomas have made him a target of the Senate Treasury Committee’s investigation.
Whitehouse argued that the timing of the piece was suspicious and suggested “coordination with Mr. Rivkin’s efforts to block our investigation.”
“At worst, the facts show that Judge Alito was involved in an organized campaign to block Congressional action on a matter in which he has a personal interest,” Whitehouse said, concluding by asking Roberts “all take steps necessary to investigate this matter and give the public prompt and reliable answers.”